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TITLE: BOLIVIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 BOLIVIA A multiparty democracy with an elected president and bicameral legislature, Bolivia has separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches with an attorney general independent of all three. In August the Congress approved constitutional amendments affecting election of future presidents and congresses, lowering the voting age, reforming the judicial system, and creating a human rights ombudsman office and a court of constitutionality. The Army, Air Force, Navy, and National Police (including the UMOPAR rural mobile patrols) comprise the security forces. They are generally responsible to the civilian authorities, but some elements of the security forces committed incidents of human rights abuse. Rich in minerals and hydrocarbons, Bolivia has a per capita gross domestic product of about $1,000; 55 percent of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. Many Bolivians lack services such as water, power, sewage, and elementary health care, while traditional agricultural practices and weak infrastructure make poverty endemic in rural areas. The Government stressed debt reduction, exports, foreign investment, privatization, and a freer banking system to promote development. Real economic growth was estimated at about 4 percent in 1994, the same as 1993. The most pervasive human rights abuse continued to be prolonged incarceration of detainees caused by inefficiency and corruption in the judicial system. The Government's efforts to combat well-entrenched and violent drug traffickers produced some abuses, including an extrajudicial killing, thefts, and drug-related corruption. Other abuses included mistreatment of detainees and prisoners (exacerbated by failure to punish perpetrators), substandard prison conditions, violence and discrimination against women and indigenous people, and inhuman working conditions in the mining industry. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of politically motivated killings. There were two documented cases in which government forces committed extrajudicial killings. In one, a patrol of soldiers under a junior officer beat to death a Spanish citizen following an argument. At the urging of the Foreign Ministry, the armed forces investigated; the officer and five soldiers were at year's end on trial for murder in a civilian court. In another case, on August 18, an UMOPAR patrol killed a cocaine laboratory worker, Felipe Perez Ortiz, during a counternarcotics operation in the coca-growing Chapare region. Initial police reports indicated Perez died in a gun battle, but further investigation showed he died in custody from a gunshot to the head. The members of the patrol were detained; the policeman suspected of the actual shooting, however, "escaped" September 3 under circumstances not yet clarified. The guards on duty at the time of the escape were arrested but have not yet been tried. Following a 7-year trial in absentia for murder, human rights abuses, and other crimes, in April 1993 the court sentenced former dictator General Luis Garcia Meza to the maximum 30-year prison term. Brazilian authorities arrested Garcia Meza and approved a Bolivian extradition request in 1994, but his lawyers appealed, and Brazil had not returned him to Bolivian custody by the end of the year. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The constitutional prohibition on torture is generally honored. There were, nevertheless, credible charges of cruel and degrading treatment of detainees and prisoners by police and prison personnel, particularly in connection with a major coca eradication effort in the Chapare region. The Government sent an investigatory team there, but no security personnel were tried for such acts; lack of evidence and fear prevented cases from going to trial. Some rural leaders exaggerated reports of UMOPAR abuses, making it hard to distinguish between legitimate complaints and political agitation. In the past, however, there were credible reports of UMOPAR mistreatment of detainees (e.g., pushing, kicking). Allegations of more serious abuses, such as rape, could not be confirmed. UMOPAR has augmented the human rights component of its training. Allegations also resurfaced that ex-officers in police intelligence had in past years tortured captured terrorists. The congressional human rights committee investigated the charges but announced no conclusions. The accusations seem politically motivated and not credible. Prison conditions vary from luxurious to wretched. Ability to pay can determine cell size, visiting privileges, day-pass eligibility, sentence, and place of confinement. Cell prices range from $20 to $5,000, paid to prior occupants or to prisoners who control cell blocks. In the poorest parts of La Paz' San Pedro prison, for example, inmates occupy tiny cells (3 by 4 by 6 feet) with no ventilation, lighting, or beds. Crowding in some "low-rent" sections obliges inmates to sleep sitting up. Children up to 6 years old may live with an incarcerated parent; authorities have worked to get children out of prisons, but many have nowhere else to go. A member of the Bolivian Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDHB) asserted that approximately 400 children live with their parents in prison. Well-financed drug traffickers and terrorists often enjoy relatively lavish accommodations and visiting rights. Chonchocoro prison, outside La Paz, is built to hold the most dangerous criminals. These, however, often have means to get transfers, for "medical" reasons, to less secure facilities. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Denial of justice through prolonged detention remains the most pervasive human rights problem. Judicial corruption, a shortage of public defenders, inadequate case-tracking mechanisms, and complex criminal justice procedures keep persons incarcerated for months, or even years, before trial. Some estimates claim that up to 85 percent of inmates have yet to go to trial. The Constitution provides for judicial determination of the legality of detention. Prisoners are released if a judge rules detention illegal, but the process can take months. Prisoners may see a lawyer, but public defenders are overburdened. Bail exists, except in some drug cases, and is generally granted. Many persons, however, cannot afford it. Persons tried under Law 1008 (the counternarcotics law) must await Supreme Court confirmation or rejection of lower courts' verdicts--a process involving severe delays. Acquittal does not guarantee release from prison. Thousands remain in jail for months or even years after receiving "not guilty" verdicts because they cannot pay for release papers, other forms, and lawyers' fees. The Government has begun to address the problem of delay of justice, including constitutional reforms to streamline the judicial system. The Minister of Justice vowed to free those who have spent long periods imprisoned without trial or were found not guilty but stay incarcerated for inability to pay fees and fines. At his urging, the legislature approved a government proposal to end imprisonment for debt. (The law had provided that debtors may be imprisoned until they pay civil damages, as well as court costs and fees.) The Government freed some 300 persons by year's end, some of whom served as many as 10 years in prison for debts as small as $50. Exile is not used as a punishment. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and the authorities generally respect it. Investigation, trial, and appeal procedures, however, take so long that prisoners can serve more time than the sentence for the crime with which they are charged. Defendants have the right to an attorney, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to appeal judicial decisions. The authorities generally honor these rights. Although the law provides for a defense attorney at public expense if needed, one is not always available. The highly formal and corrupt judicial system makes it difficult for poor, illiterate persons to have access to courts and legal redress. Corruption and intimidation in the judicial system remain major problems. Poor pay and working conditions help make judges and prosecutors susceptible to bribes to free suspected drug traffickers and their property. In July the acting Attorney General, under circumstances that suggested strongly he had been bribed or threatened, recommended against the extradition of several traffickers. After a long impeachment trial in Congress, two Supreme Court justices, including the Court's president, were found guilty of malfeasance and removed from the Court. APBDH, the major local human rights group, asserted that there were about 20 "political prisoners," but the Government claimed they were terrorists involved in violent crimes, including murders and bombings. Available evidence supported the Government's claim. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution provides for the sanctity of the home and the privacy of citizens' lives, and the Government usually respected these provisions. There were credible allegations of UMOPAR abuses, including thefts of property from homes and illegal searches. Opponents charged that security services conducted illegal phone taps and other surveillance; these charges could not be confirmed. The Government respects the rights of individuals to determine family size, religion, and political affiliations. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press No legal or institutional barriers to freedom of speech and press exist. State-owned and private radio and television stations operate freely. Newspapers are privately owned; most adopt antigovernment positions. There were credible charges of politicians and drug traffickers paying newsmen for favorable coverage, even though professional organizations rejected such accusations. The Government respects academic freedom, and the law grants public universities autonomous status. Some university-based Marxist groups seek to deny academic freedom and impose their political agenda on the education process. They have threatened to paralyze the educational system to protest the Government's reform plan, which moves resources from the universities to primary education. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The law provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and association, and the authorities respect them in practice. Labor, political, and student groups carried out numerous demonstrations and rallies in La Paz and other cities. As a rule, authorities try to avoid confronting demonstrators. The Government routinely granted permits for marches and rallies. c. Freedom of Religion Roman Catholicism predominates; the Constitution recognizes it as the official religion. Citizens may practice the religion of their choice. About 400 religious groups, mostly Protestant, are active. Missionary groups must register with the Foreign Ministry as nongovernmental organizations (NGO's); no indication exists that they received treatment different from that given other NGO's. Despite Catholic Church criticism, the Ministry disallowed no registrations. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation No restrictions exist on travel. The Government permits emigration, guarantees the right to return, and does not revoke citizenship for political reasons. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Bolivia is a multiparty democracy with an elected president and an independent, bicameral legislature. Political parties ranging from far left to moderate right function openly. National elections are held every 4 years; the June 1993 elections were free and fair, resulting in a peaceful, constitutional change of government. Suffrage is universal and obligatory. No legal impediments exist to women or indigenous people voting, holding political office, or rising to political leadership. Nevertheless, the number of women and indigenous people who have prominent positions in politics remains small, but with notable exceptions such as Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas, an Aymara Indian, and La Paz mayor Monica Medina. The "popular participation" law passed in April will give local communities more influence in decisionmaking. Its impact has been greatest in rural areas, where neighbors formed 1,500 basic territorial organizations and small communities created 47 centralized municipal associations, which have legal status to receive and spend public funds, largely on local development projects. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government is sensitive to the views of domestic and international human rights organizations and discusses their concerns with them. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch/ Americas, and the Washington Office on Latin America follow the local human rights scene; monitors have visited without hindrance. The House of Deputies' Human Rights Commission gets considerable political and media attention. The Catholic Church, the APDHB, foreign NGO's, labor and student organizations, and the media monitor human rights issues. As part of a large counternarcotics operation, the Government expelled two foreign human rights monitors for immigration law violations, involvement with pro-coca activities and groups, and possible links to terrorists. The Government's accusations were credible; there was no evidence that they were expelled because of human rights activities. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution prohibits discrimination based upon race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, origin, or economic or social condition. Nonetheless, there is significant discrimination against women and indigenous people. Women Women generally do not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. Many poor women do not know their legal rights; traditional prejudices and social conditions remain obstacles to advancement. Women generally earn less than men for equal work. Young girls often leave school to work at home or on the economy. A study by the National Statistical Institute (INE) found that, as of the 1992 census, 27.7 percent of women were illiterate, compared to 11.8 percent of men. Although no legal impediments exist, women hold few professional positions. Violence against women is pervasive. An INE study covering the July 1992-June 1993 period found that 40 percent of all reported violent attacks in La Paz department were perpetrated against women. Ninety-five percent of the attackers were male; in 71 percent of the cases the attacker was closely related to the victim. Of these domestic violence complaints, 52 percent involved physical mistreatment and 48 percent were related to psychological abuse. A total of 11,069 complaints of violence against women were registered in La Paz during this period. The Subsecretary for Women's Affairs in the Ministry of Human Development estimates that 95 percent of all cases of violence against women go unpunished. Women's rights advocates point out that the Penal Code provides that no punishment is applicable when "injuries are light" and were inflicted by a close family member (including in-laws) living with the victim. The Government has developed a four-part plan for the protection of women. It implemented the first part on October 24 by promulgating Law 1559 which adopted the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women as Bolivian law. Subsequent steps include a law against domestic violence, establishment of comprehensive legal services offices to help and support women, revisions to school curriculums, and educating health care providers about the appropriate manner of dealing with female patients. Children According to the Subsecretary for Generational Affairs of the Ministry of Human Development, approximately 40 percent of the urban population under 18 years of age (about one million persons) is mistreated; he estimated that the proportion is higher in rural areas. Statistics from the Ministry of Planning's education reform team note that in rural areas, only 0.7 percent of girls and 1.4 percent of boys finish high school; in urban areas, 26 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys do so. The 1994 Educational Reform Act seeks to better the situation of children; even optimistic observers, however, note the reforms will need years to make an impact. The old practice of "criadito" service still persists in some parts of Bolivia. Criaditos are indigenous children of both sexes, usually 10 to 12 years old, whom their parents indenture to middle- and upper-class families to perform household work in exchange for education, clothing, room, and board. There are no controls over the benefits to or treatment of the criaditos, who may become virtual slaves for the years of their indenture. Indigenous People Indians, who comprise a majority of the population, lack the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. The Government has placed rights for indigenous people on its reform agenda, which includes educational reform and popular participation. The 1994 constitutional reforms acknowledge Bolivia as a "multiethnic, pluricultural society" and allow the indigenous nations to assume ownership of traditional lands. By year's end, however, few if any results were apparent. Discrimination against and abuses of indigenous people continued. The Indian majority generally remains at the low end of the socioeconomic scale, facing severe disadvantages in health, life expectancy, education, income, literacy, and employment. Lack of education, poor farming and mining methods, indigenous cultural practices, inability to speak Spanish, and societal biases keep the indigenous people poor. Construction workers, mostly indigenous, are often fired before 3 months' service, relieving the employer of the obligation to provide severance pay and other benefits. The same employer then rehires the workers for another short period. People with Disabilities No specific legislation protects the disabled but some limited steps have been taken: for example, the new electoral law makes arrangements for blind voters. In general, however, there are no special services nor infrastructure to accommodate the handicapped. Social attitudes keep many disabled persons at home from an early age, limiting their integration into society. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers may form and join organizations of their choosing. The Labor Code requires prior governmental authorization to establish a union, permits only one per enterprise, and allows the Government to dissolve unions, but the Government has not enforced these provisions in recent years. While the Code denies civil servants the right to organize and bans strikes in public services, including banks and public markets, nearly all civilian government workers are unionized. In theory, the Bolivian Labor Federation (COB) represents virtually the entire work force; approximately one-half of the workers in the formal economy belong to labor unions. Some members of the informal economy also participate in labor organizations. Workers in the private sector frequently exercise the right to strike. Solidarity strikes are illegal, but the Government does not prosecute those responsible nor impose penalties. Significant strikes centered around annual negotiations over salaries and benefits for public employees. When the Government refused to accede to union demands, strikers marched, set up roadblocks, and cut access to certain areas of the Chapare region. Additional talks produced a settlement favorable to the workers, and the strikes ended. Unions are not independent of government and political parties. Most parties have labor committees that try to influence union activity, causing fierce political battles within unions. The law allows unions to join international labor organizations. The COB became an affiliate of the formerly Soviet-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) in 1988. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Workers may organize and bargain collectively. In practice, collective bargaining, defined as voluntary direct negotiations between unions and employers without participation of the Government, is limited. Consultations between government representatives and labor leaders are common, but there are no collective bargaining agreements as defined above. In state industries, the union issues a list of demands and the Government concedes some points. Private employers often use public sector settlements as guidelines for their own adjustments, and some private employers exceed what the Government grants. The Government, conscious of International Monetary Fund guidelines, rarely grants wage increases exceeding inflation. The law prohibits discrimination against union members and organizers. Complaints go to the National Labor Court, which can take a year or more to rule. Union leaders say problems are often moot by the time the court rules. Labor law and practice in the seven special duty-free zones are the same as in the rest of Bolivia. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law bars forced or compulsory labor. There were no cases reported other than the criadito service described in Section 5. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The law prohibits employment of persons under 18 years of age in dangerous, unhealthy, or immoral work. The Labor Code is ambiguous on conditions of employment for minors aged 14 to 17; it permits apprenticeship for those 12 to 14. This practice has been criticized by the International Labor Organization; the Government responded that it would present legislation reforming this and other provisions of the Labor Code. Responsibility for enforcing child labor provisions resides in the Labor Ministry, but it generally does not enforce provisions on employment of children. Urban children hawk goods, shine shoes, and assist transport operators. Rural children often work with parents from an early age. Children are not generally employed in factories or formal businesses but, when employed, often work the same hours as adults. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The law establishes a minimum wage (about $38 per month), bonuses, and fringe benefits. The minimum wage does not provide a worker a decent standard of living, and most workers earn more. Although the minimum wage falls below prevailing wages in most jobs, certain fringe benefits are pegged to it. The minimum wage does not cover about 20 percent of urban workers--vendors and shoe polishers, for example--nor does it cover farmers, some 30 percent of the working population. Only half the urban labor force enjoys an 8-hour workday and a workweek of 5 or 5 1/2 days, because the maximum workweek of 44 hours is not enforced. The Labor Ministry's Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for protection of workers' health and safety, but such laws are poorly enforced. Although the State Mining Corporation has an office charged with safety, the mines, often old and using antiquated equipment, are dangerous and unhealthy. In a tradition dating from the Spanish conquest, employers in the mining sector promote chewing of coca leaf with a catalyst that serves to release the leaf's alkaloids, including cocaine. Coca is promoted as a substitute for food, water, and appropriate rest periods. In many cooperative mines, miners earn less than $3 per 12-hour day. They work without helmets, boots, or respirators in mines where toxic gases abound; they buy their own supplies, including dynamite, have no scheduled rest periods, and survive with little water and food. Employers and others assure them coca leaf satisfies not only nutritional needs but also suppresses hunger and thirst, makes them strong, and protects them from toxic gases and silicosis. Miners stay underground from 24 to 72 hours without interruption. With no drinking water available in many mines, miners drink urine. The promotion of coca chewing by some employers, politicians, the COB, and persons having a financial stake in the manufacture and sale of cocaine, contributes to conditions of work that fall far below international labor and human rights standards. (###)
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